September 25, 2010

Bill and Hiroko's - Van Nuys, CA

I remember growing in up Glendale I'd swing by this small burger joint called The Great White Hut, nestled on a corner along Orange and California street, a stone's throw from the busy thoroughfare of Brand Boulevard. It was a joy to sit perched on one of the stools, ordering directly from one of the cooks. The problem was that the food was often ordinary, as if the current operator hadn't taken the reins of the original owners. Still, I very much enjoyed the gestalt (forgive the use of the word), the roadside feel that made me feel like I was in an Edward Hopper painting. The roadside hut is pure Americana, one of the last remnants of an age when house prices always went up and gas was cheap.

Bill And Hirokos

I'd known about Bill's Hamburgers ever since Josh Lurie pointed me to it on FoodGPS. The hamburger hut was recently renamed Bill and Hiroko's, a tribute to the second half of the current operation.

After finishing up a grueling session at the Van Nuys branch of City of L.A. Building and Safety (where I obtained my final building permits for Scoops Westside), I decided to reward myself with a hearty lunch and a long-overdue pilgrimage to the burger stand.

Bill and Hiroko's sits on a blank stretch of local road. The only aural ambiance comes from the swish of cars zooming by and, upon closer inspection, the sizzle of the old stainless steeltop grill. Inside the hut you'll see Bill Elwell, about the most weathered-looking burger cook you could imagine manning the grill, while his wife Hiroko Wilcox moves about taking orders and handling prep.


Bill opened the stand in 1965, the same year the current season of Mad Men takes place. It was half a decade before my father even set foot in the States, and almost twenty years before I came into the world. If anyone knows a well-made burger, it's Bill Elwell.


I sat on one of the stools facing the grill and the old menu, which lists a lineup of burgers in various renditions as well as staples such as egg salad sandwiches and pastrami. I knew to order the double-cheeseburger with grilled onions and bacon.

Moving slowly, Bill opened the undercounter and pulled out two freshly ground patties, plopping them onto the grill along with a small mound of chopped onions and two slices of bacon. Fresh white buns hit the grill for a requisite toasting. Within minutes the burger was dressed with lettuce, tomato, and mayo and wrapped in paper. This burger is a thing of beauty, a hallmark of simplicity in an age when almost every "gourmet" burger cannot elude arugula or brioche. This is what an In-N-Out aficionado might consider ideal, with the melty American cheese binding the elements in its wonderful industrialized ooze.


Taking a bite, I notice the rather thin patties and their hefty texture. I'm so used to burgers that sport a thickness of at least half an inch, with pink or even red middles and dry-aged beef that these thin patties are hard to love at first bite. But as I keep eating, I realize that perhaps this is the quintessential American burger of the mid-century. I try to take my time but before long I'm finished with it. I opt for a side of Lays potato chips and a can of Coke (regular, not Diet or Zero). I feel more American than Woody Harrelson. The whole experience makes me glad that I live in this great nation, instead of feeling sorry for our messed up bureaucracy or budget deficits or TMZ culture. It's because something as simple as a burger can represent all of our innate desires for comfort, familiarity, and gustatory pleasure.


The guy next to me polishes off his pastrami sandwich in a matter of minutes and promptly asks Hiroko for another. Hm, I wonder if I should follow suit and double up the double cheeseburger. Sadly I do the un-American thing and settle. Looking back, I was more than content with just one.

The Stand

Bill and Hiroko's
14742 Oxnard Street
Van Nuys, CA 91411
818 785 4086

Open Weekdays only, closes at 4PM. Cash Only


glutster said...

I had that same conflict with going back to 1/8 inch patties too! ha ha.

Oh well, that's why they invented double cheeseburgers? I guess.

btw. bad ass pics, are you using that hipstacam app thing for camera phone?

Gastronomer said...

I know you're a busy man these days, but thanks for taking the time to write this one up. I've missed your unique style of blogging.

Joshua Lurie said...

Glad to see that you finally made it to Bill and Hiroko's. That's a classic burger stand.

More importantly, congratulations on securing your final building permits for Scoops Westside!

mattatouille said...

Javier - I'm using the Hipstamatic app for iPhone and it's become my favorite photographic tool at the moment. Though I'm pretty limited on the controls, I'm more than pleased with the photos I'm getting, especially in good ambient light.

Cathy - thank you for comment. I do miss blogging in a lot of ways and try to get myself to writing whenever I can. I hope that I don't stop despite the new time requirements I have.

Josh - Thanks for pointing me to the hut. I hope to go there regularly, even though it's a little out of the way for me.

effingdericious said...

reading through your older entries, my friend. this one in particular was stellar.

you write beyond the food and delve into the story. inspiring stuff